A south Armagh victims’ campaigner has been arrested in a major police operation over an alleged £70,000 VAT fraud.
Pastor Barrie Halliday, who is best known as director of victims group FAIR, was arrested at his Mountnorris home on Tuesday morning in an operation involving around 14 police and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) vehicles and a police helicopter.
He was taken to Banbridge police station where customs officers quizzed him for four hours over what they believed were streams of income other than his farm, he said.
“They said it was an intelligence-led operation into fraudulent activity,” said Mr Halliday, a former UDR man and former TUV election candidate. He told the News Letter: “Customs [officers] questioned me for four hours about my farming business and any other incomes that I might have. They went through everything while I was gone. They removed some stuff relating to victims and FAIR.
“They insisted I had a computer and pen drives and demanded to look at them – but I have never had a computer in my life. The customs men said police were very keen to bring a large security presence and a helicopter, but that they [the customs officers] just didn’t understand why. There were about eight police vehicles and four customs vehicles.
“Police clearly removed stuff which the customs officers said they had no interest in – victims-related stuff.
“Customs officers insisted I had other business interests outside the farm – which I never had. They are entitled to do a VAT inspection of anyone but this was all very churlish.”
He added: “I was quite vocal during the flag protests – I am unrepentant.” He was released on unconditional bail.
An HMRC spokesman confirmed that a man from Co Armagh was arrested in connection with a suspected £70,000 VAT fraud and that business records were seized. He declined to comment on Mr Halliday’s comments.
John Whiting, HMRC Assistant Director for Criminal Investigation, said: “HMRC takes tax fraud extremely seriously and anyone deliberately choosing to evade the taxes they owe should expect not only a heavy fine, but possibly a criminal prosecution as well. Anyone with information about people who may be involved in tax fraud can contact the Tax Evasion Hotline on 0800 788 887.” The PSNI said it provided assistance to HMRC in the Mountnorris area. A spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on operational matters. However appropriate police support is provided to our partner agencies when requested”.